Thursday, March 8, 2012

Come and Take It, Bud Selig

Contrary to popular opinion, Bud Selig does not possess God-like power. He may be the Commissioner of Baseball, but he does not have the power to control everything. He rules baseball with an iron fist – pronouncing edicts from on high, and making decisions that are often at odds with what many of us would consider good common sense. His actions are consistent with those of someone who thinks they have ultimate power. This is not a healthy thing for the game of baseball, and his actions mark him as no friend of the Houston Astros or their fans.
Since 2005, Selig has made several questionable decisions involving the Astros – decisions that make it appear that he is targeting the team in a purposefully negative manner.

First, during the World Series of 2005, Selig ordered the Astros to open the roof at Minute Maid Park in Houston for Game 3. The White Sox had won the first two games of the series in cold Chicago, and the Astros were looking to turn the tide by making the home field advantage just a bit more of an advantage. Why else does a team have a retractable roof, other than to suit the home team? If you think that gives the Astros an unfair advantage, that’s just too bad. If a franchise has the wherewithal to build a stadium with a roof that can make the stadium virtually immune to weather, then more power to them. It also gives the home team the right to decide whether the game is played with the roof open or closed.

It is quite common for home teams to make such decisions – it is within the bounds of what home teams are allowed to do. It is common, for example, for teams that bunt and run a lot to tailor the dirt and grass near home plate to better suit their bunters. The area can be altered to make a ball die in front of the plate, or to roll freely just along the foul line. It is perfectly legal to do this – no one has taken steps to stop this practice.

Another perfect example is New York’s original Yankee Stadium – “The House that Ruth Built”. Does anyone remember why the right field fence was so close to home plate (295 feet), when every other stadium in the country was much deeper (at least 30 feet) at the pole? It was built that way to suit the home run power of the great left-handed hitter Babe Ruth. Is that an unfair advantage? Perhaps, but no one forced the Yankees to change it.

All the Astros wanted to do during the World Series, was get in out of the cold and play baseball in a climate better suited for baseball. The Astros are used to playing half of their schedule in the friendly, comfortable environment of Minute Maid Park. Selig decided that the Astros were not entitled to the advantage of their own home field.

There was no good reason for Selig to impose his will on the Astros in such a situation. Does he think that his power is unlimited? We do not know. In fact, it is really not any of Selig’s concern what the Astros do with their roof. I repeat: there was no good reason for him to order the roof to be open during the game – other than to attempt to eliminate the home field advantage to which the Astros were entitled.

Next, in 2008, in the midst of a playoff run, Hurricane Ike hit Houston. Much of the city and surrounding areas lot power, and the Astros were forced to look elsewhere to play their next two home games. The two most obvious choices would have been Ranger’s Ballpark in Arlington, or Round Rock’s Dell Diamond – both places that would have served perfectly as alternate real 'home games' for the Astros.

Once again, Selig played his anti-Houston card and forced the Astros to play the two 'home' games against the rival Cubs in the decidedly hostile environment of Milwaukee. Rather than being surrounded by their own fans, the game was attended by thousands of Cub rooters. Houston lost both games – a no hitter, and a one hitter by Cub’s pitchers. COINCIDENTALLY - Selig is from Milwaukee and used to own the Brewers. It was abundantly clear to anyone paying attention, that Selig torpedoed the Astros in favor of the Cubs.

Who makes such decisions? Who decides that Milwaukee (much closer to Chicago) is a good choice for ‘home’ games for the Astros against the Cubs? That decision smacks of favoritism – not in the best interests of fair play or the best interests of what should have been the home team. The pattern was becoming quite clear – for whatever reason, Commissioner Bud Selig had made inexplicably poor decisions that adversely affected the Houston Astros.

But he wasn’t finished yet.

This past year, as a condition of the sale of the Astros, Selig forced new owner Jim Crane to agree to move the Astros to the American League - 50 years of Texas baseball history notwithstanding. While it would have made much more sense to move the Arizona Diamondbacks to the American League’s West Division, Selig apparently bullied the Astros into making the move. For many reasons, this is a seriously unfavorable move for Houston. Not least of which is the fact that the fans will suffer most, as many of the Astros games will be played on the West Coast – two time zones away from Houston. Rather than the usual start times of between 7 and 8 pm, games against the Angels, A’s, and Mariners – the Astros new division rivals - will start around 10 pm Houston time. Television ratings, and therefore revenue, will likely plummet as the late start times will keep many fans from watching the games.

“Enough!” shouted Astros fans. Oh, but Selig was still not finished.

Now, he has ordered the Astros to alter their throwback Colt .45's uniforms. He commanded the team to remove the image of the pistol from the original team uniforms that would be used fewer than 5 times­ in this, the team's 50th anniversary year. I am not a gun proponent, but exactly how does the image of the pistol cause anyone harm?

Correct me if I am wrong, but I am under the impression that possession of firearms is still guaranteed under the US Constitution. Just because one owns a firearm, that does not mean that one intends to use it for harm. Just because one displays an image of a firearm, does not mean that one intends harm. It’s a picture, Selig – it was the lawful name of a Major League Baseball team. As such, it is an important part of the history of baseball in Houston, in Texas, and in the United States.

If you think Selig is just being politically correct, that is just so much bunk. Consider this:

At least two teams - the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves - have logos that are considered to be racially offensive to many people, especially Native Americans. It doesn't seem to bother Selig that both of those teams are insensitive to those complaints (and thereby 'politically INcorrect'). I noticed that Selig has made no effort to correct this situation. Does he care that Native Americans rightfully argue against the use of these derogatory symbols? Apparently he does not.

No, being politically correct is not the issue. The issue is one man who acts as though he has ultimate control over his ‘empire’ – a control issue that is detrimental to baseball.

It is clear that the Houston Astros are, for whatever ridiculous reason, the punching bag for Bud Selig and Major League Baseball. The Houston Astros/Colt .45’s are a proud franchise with a 50-year history. In no way, shape, or form, does this team deserve this constant abuse from a man whose job is to act in the best interests of baseball. That means all of baseball – not just Bud Selig’s version.

My cousin David, a baseball fan, put it well: “Selig has far outstayed his time as baseball commissioner, and should let someone with a broader view on business and a greater appreciation for the game take over before he ruins the sport altogether.”


So far, the official word from the Astros regarding the Colt .45 issue is that the team intends to comply with Selig’s command. I’m just wondering: is there a point at which new Astros owner Jim Crane realizes that he is part of a group that collectively are Bud Selig’s bosses? Wait – do you mean to say that Crane does NOT work for Bud Selig? Does Mr. Crane know this?

It would appear not.

I don’t know why Crane doesn’t make some calls to his fellow owners and lobby them to force Selig back in his place – as an overseer, not a dictator. Then again, I don’t know why Crane doesn’t simply ignore the edict and have his Astros wear the uniforms as originally planned. What is Selig going to do – force the team to move to Japan? Is he going to force the team to leave the stadium roof open throughout the hot Houston summer? Is he going to force them to wear three-piece suits on the field? Show some guts, Mr. Crane, and stand up for what is right for your team, your city, and the state of Texas.

Regardless of what Crane does, Selig’s power trip shouldn’t stop fans of the Houston Astros from expressing their collective displeasure of him and his outdated view of how to run MLB. I urge all Astros fans to buy Colt .45's shirts and replica jerseys – apparel with the image of the pistol clearly visible as they were on the original uniforms. Imagine this happy scenario: Opening Day 2012, Minute Maid Park. A sea of Colt .45 images in the crowd, celebrating 50 years of history AND the happy fact that although Bud Selig thinks he controls everything, he CANNOT stop Astros fans from wearing the old logo including the pistol.

Regardless of how powerful Selig thinks he is, he does not have the power to impose his will on the fans of the Astros. He cannot stop the fans from displaying the Colt .45’s logo in all its original glory. Such a movement on the part of Houston fans would send a clear message to Dictator Selig:

If you want our gun, come and take it. Study up on the history of Texas and you will find that Texans do not give up their guns without a fight. And while you’re at it, go away - go far away, and leave baseball to those who really care about the sport.

(For a brief history lesson on the phrase 'Come and Take It', visit this site: 'Gonzales Come and Take It'.)

Update: The Astros announced Friday that the pistol will be on the uniforms when the team wears them twice this season. Such is the power of public opinion!

Larry Manch is an author, teacher, guitar player, freelance writer, and columnist. His books include: 'The Toughest Hundred Dollars & Other Rock & Roll Stories', 'A Sports Junkie', 'The Avery Appointment', 'Between the Fuzzy Parts'.

He also writes about baseball for Climbing Tal's Hill, food and travel on Miles & Meals, and music/guitars on The Backbeat, and is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America.

He lives in Central Texas with his wife and family.

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